Analysing The Significance Of Imran Khan’s Record-Shattering Twitter Spaces Session
The domestic, international, and strategic significances of this development can’t be underestimated since it’s a milestone in digital diplomacy.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence motion earlier this month that he blamed on a US-orchestrated regime change against him as punishment for his independent foreign policy (especially its Russian dimension) but which the new authorities insisted was a purely constitutional process, shattered the world record on Wednesday for holding the largest Twitter Spaces session. Over 160,000 people listened in at once, breaking the prior record by a Korean pop group of only 44,000 simultaneous listeners. The domestic, international, and strategic significances of this development can’t be underestimated since it’s a milestone in digital diplomacy.
Pakistan Today shared a summary of his most important remarks during that event, which mostly dealt with his country’s ongoing political crisis provoked by its scandalous change of government. He compared his planned rally in Lahore to the beginning of the Pakistan Movement, describing his upcoming event as the beginning of his own freedom movement for Pakistan. He also insisted that The Establishment – Pakistani parlance for the country’s powerful military-intelligence structures – shouldn’t be smeared no matter what since it’s more important to Pakistan than he himself is regardless of speculation about some of its members’ role in his ouster.
Regardless of one’s interpretation over the sequence of events that removed him from office, there’s no denying that his narrative resonates with a critical mass of Pakistani society. His adept employment of digital diplomacy is literally the most effective thus far in the world when it comes to the Twitter Spaces platform. This should attract international attention not only to his cause, but also to the trend of politics increasingly playing out on social media, which in turn raises awareness of the need for these platforms to remain neutral unlike when Twitter banned former US President Donald Trump for instance.
The global public yearns to interact with major political figures on social media, as proven by former Prime Minister Khan’s record-shattering event on Wednesday, the strategic significance of which is that it heralds the dawn of a new era. Politicians can no longer ignore their constituents, and traditional press conferences by them or their representatives are no longer seen as credible nor exciting when compared to direct interactions through Twitter Spaces sessions and other related means. In the Pakistani context, this leads to the indisputable conclusion that the former premier’s PTI party is leaps and bounds ahead of its rivals when it comes to its soft power appeal to the people.
One of the lesser-discussed observations pertaining to Pakistan’s ongoing political crisis is the soft power dimension whereby a civilian force (PTI in this example) broke The Establishment’s hitherto monopoly on the “Trinity” of patriotic, sovereignty, and national security narratives by proving that their own such interpretation successfully appeals to a critical mass of society. This can have unpredictable national security consequences if left unchecked, yet The Establishment is struggling to regain control of dynamics and might very well never end up doing so since they don’t seem to understand what happened. That’s not at all to imply that PTI is a national security threat, just to touch upon a trend.
The status quo prior to Pakistan’s political crisis has forever changed and a new domestic socio-political (soft security) reality has emerged wherein it’s now impossible to ignore the popular appeal of PTI regardless of whether one agrees with its narrative related to the recent change of government or not. In a sense, this mirrors the rise of former US President Donald Trump, which largely played out on social media since legacy media united against him and thus exposed their institutional bias and associated violation of supposedly sacred professional ethics. The same, it should be said, is observable in Pakistan nowadays too, which suggests that The Establishment didn’t learn anything from the US precedent.
They shouldn’t learn the wrong lessons though, which concern the official censorship and unofficial “cancelling” of those accounts that contradict the “official narrative” like what happened to Trump and many of his supporters in the years since, especially after the 2020 elections. That only risked radicalizing those individuals and creating even more unpredictable socio-political (soft security) consequences for the US. Instead, The Establishment should consider what can be gained by going with the flow as opposed to unsuccessfully (and arguably, counterproductively) attempting to push back against it through some of the means that they’ve been criticized by some for recently employing.
Former Prime Minister Khan’s criticisms of what he described as his country’s biased media (some of whom he accused of colluding with the alleged American conspiracy to oust him) might be contentious but they resonate with a critical mass of society, some of whom have reportedly experienced this first hand or at the very least perceive it to be happening. That’s why he urged his compatriots to continue employing social media to get their message out in the face of these supposed institutional obstacles to what he’s declared to be their new country’s freedom movement. Pakistan’s Establishment doesn’t have influence over Twitter like their US counterparts do so they’re unlikely to impede their efforts.
Considering PTI’s massive youth base, it’s clear that a generational divide of sorts is emerging in modern-day Pakistan. This majority youthful country where the median age is only 22.8 years has the demographic prerequisite for experiencing revolutionary socio-political (soft security) changes exactly of the sort that former Prime Minister Khan and his PTI are attempting to guide through their newly declared freedom movement. The Establishment, whose echelon is assumed to be much older and thus representative of a completely different generation that came to age prior to the advent of the information-technology communication (ICT) revolution, evidently struggles to understand this.
Pakistan’s former PTI government did a lot to empower the country’s youth, which enhanced their genuine support for the premier that was just replaced through contentious circumstances. The impression that former Prime Minister Khan left among this critical mass of the population was enormously positive, which explains why so many of them passionately support him to the point of turning out in record droves to his recent rallies. By contrast, The Establishment and the new authorities that it supports are incapable of tapping into popular sentiment like he and his PTI have proven themselves able to easily do. Try as they might, all such attempts thus far haven’t been successful.
Pakistan isn’t just some random Global South country but one of the world’s most populous states and one with exciting economic potential due to his hosting of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Belt & Road Initiative’s (BRI) flagship project. While its socio-political (soft security) dynamics do have some unique aspects to them connected to the country’s culture and history, it can nevertheless be seen as a case study of the transformation that every society across the world is experiencing to different extents. Former Prime Minister Khan’s record-shattering Twitter Spaces session should therefore be studied by everyone across the world that’s interested in these complex processes.